Friday, September 15, 2017

The Oxford Comma, Robert Frost, and Comma Suicide

This will start out boring for non-punctuation-lovers, but then I'll quote Robert Frost, which is always a great benefit to society. So slog through the boring part to get to the poetry and my explanation of how Frost shows how important it is to "know the rules, then break them."

Oxford Comma
Here's a minor comma fix, and it's more "discretionary than obligatory:" The Oxford comma.
For some reason, the final comma in a series (before the "and") is called the Oxford comma, but it's also called the "serial comma". The rule is, when you have a series of three or more items in a row, with "and" before the last one, you put a comma before the "and" so that there's a comma after each item. So: The US flag is red, white, and blue.

This is done differently in journalism, where they used to have to save space and ink and so eliminated as many comma rules as they could. J So you'll see the "and" without a comma before in magazine and newspapers and often on news websites too.
Academic writing, however, follows the rules of book publishing, and the "Oxford comma" is the convention there. Just a minor change, and as I said, this is a rule in academic and book writing, so you'll often see series without that comma in the popular press.
More about the "Oxford comma"

What About Robert Frost, You Ask?

The great American poet Robert Frost surely knew the rules. No one made better use of the conventions of the language and grammar than he did in creating his deceptively simple and lovely poems. He's a great example of how understanding the convention (and how the reader would conventionally read something) in order to subvert it for a greater or deeper meaning-- punctuation becomes subtext.

Now as I said above, the general rule followed by book editors and publishers is that when there is a series of three or more like items (like three adjectives), you place a comma before the "and" or the last item in the series, indicating that these are all basically similar and yet separate from each other.

So with Frost's poem in manuscript, the book editor (or, as the Frost myth goes, the typesetter of the book, cleaning up after the editor ) saw this line with this series:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Well, of course the punctilious editor/typesetter made haste to add that Oxford comma-- the RULE.
And usually, that would have been exactly correct.

However, again according to myth, Frost saw the proofs and quickly "stetted" or insisted that the original be maintained.

Why? Was Frost being stupid? Did he not know the rule?

He knew the rule. He knew what effect abiding by the rule would create for the reader. And he knew he wanted another effect, one that could be achieved by subverting the rule.

Let's look at the two meanings-- comma in or comma out.

Here's the entire stanza. This is the final verse of that achingly beautiful poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".  (You can read the whole poem, and you really should, here at the Poetry Foundation.)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep

So this was what Frost ended up with-- what he started with, what he wanted-- comma out.

Why did he insist on that change, or rather, the change back? The defiance of convention? 

Let's look at the meaning conveyed by each option.  
Comma in:
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
With that comma in, the three adjectives are "equal in weight". That is:
The woods are lovely, the woods are dark, and the woods are deep.
They each modify or describe "the woods".

Now take the comma out, and see what happens:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
With the comma out, the "dark and deep" now modify "lovely":
The woods are lovely, because they are dark and deep.

See the difference?

The first is a placid and unremarkable (though perfect in its scansion :) description of the woods.

The second is a subtextual confession of the longing for "darkness and depth".

Here is a man who has stopped by a snowy woods on a winter evening, a man weary of his responsibilities, his "promises to keep", and momentarily transfixed by the "loveliness" of the woods. And what is lovely about them to him? The darkness and depth. The death. (This is poetry, so it won't be transparent. This is Frost, so we must always search beneath the extraordinary "prettiness" of his prose to find the deep meaning he always embeds.)

He looks at the woods. He finds the darkness and depth "lovely". He thinks of... well. No. He can't do that. He has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.

We have just witnessed a man choosing life. 

Those final lines (repeated just to make you ponder this):
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep

Those would have little resonance if all that had just happened was the man stopped and saw the pretty woods and commented on how they are "lovely, dark, and deep."

Coming after that line with the missing comma, however?

They mean he's made a choice. He will not succumb to the "lovely dark and depth." He will keep those promises and trudge those miles and then sink into a temporary (not permanent) sleep.

He knew the rules. He chose to break them-- for a very specific effect. That effect could happen only if he could trust that most readers would know how it "should" be punctuated, and stop and wonder why the comma was left out.

This is one of the great techniques we have when we craft and refine our own voice. We can know the conventional rules and the conventional and usually appropriate effects they will have.
And then we can choose to subvert the rules to achieve a different effect. 
It's not just breaking the rules to be defiant or because we're ignorant... but accepting the rules, knowing that they create a conventional meaning, knowing that now the reader-- trained in the conventions-- will be surprised and thoughtful in discovering this new meaning.

We are in control of our own voice. But we need to take control. We need to know more about the language and how it can be manipulated-- and most important, we need to know how the reader will interpret our choices.

Well, heck, time to go read that whole poem. I encountered this first in 5th grade at St. Aidan's School in Boston. Interestingly, the nun (nuns weren't known then for cross-curricular pedagogical innovations) Sister Hugh had us put this poem to music, and I could still sing our ballad if you want. (You don't.) I thought it was the most beautiful poem in the world then. (I'm still pretty in love with it.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Contranyms: Words that mean two opposites

I asked for examples of "contranyms"-- a word with two opposite meanings. 

Here are some friends contributed:

 Fast= quick to get away/ Fast like "he was held fast by the giant lobster claw."

Bolt= to run away, but you also bold two things together.

Oversight - looking over something carefully -- or overlooking something entirely.
Sanction -- to approve of an action, or to punish an action. 
Weather -- to withstand the effects of weather ("the house weathered the storm"),  or to *show* the effects of weather ('the stone statue was badly weathered")

Cave, as a noun, a big hole in the ground. As a verb, the collapsing of a hole.

Can you think of any others? And why does this happen? One friend reminded me when flammable things were labeled "inflammable" (meaning, uh, flammable-- don't set these on fire). Why do that?



Friday, May 19, 2017

Grammar questions answered: Restrictive and non-restrictive

I asked for some grammar questions, expecting/wanting some softballs. Ha! Not a chance. But I will throw myself to the wolves and try to answer.

Stacey asked-
Here's my question(s): What is a restrictive clause? What does it mean, really? What makes it restrictive?

I ask this, because I have a note that says if I'm using the word "which" in a restrictive clause, I should replace it with "that." It would be a helpful note if I knew what it meant! Hahaha! :)

 Okay, to get very basic, a clause is an element which has a subject and verb, and it can be "independent" (can be a sentence on its own, like This will be a long and tedious explanation), or dependent, (which can't be a complete sentence on its own, like which will be hard to understand). 
 Dependent clauses can be used in many ways in a sentence, like to establish some time or place condition--
When I was young, we used to have to walk three miles uphill to school.
Wherever we stay that night, we should get a suite with a view of the river.
"Restrictive" clauses are special types of  "relative" clauses. (A relative clause – I know, this gets arcane, but you know, you say and write these every day, even if you don't know the terms—is a clause which "relate" one thing to another. Forget that—just know that relative clauses start with those relative pronouns—who, which, that, what— and then have a verb, like Relative pronouns, which include "which and who," are how relative clauses start.) Relative nouns are usually "adjectival", modifying a noun (often but not always the subject of the sentence). So they are usually used as "appositives" and tell more about the noun that precedes them:  Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states.
 You can see there that the relative clause—the appositive—just tells us more about governors. (Not all appositives are clauses—they can just be phrases, like The lady in the red hat ordered the soy latte. But let's not deal with that now. :)
What's important in that example is that it tells us more about ALL governors- that is, the meaning of the noun governor isn't narrowed by the appositive. ALL governors serve a four-year term.
 That is a NON-restrictive clause. It tells us more information about the noun it modifies, but it doesn't "restrict" the noun.

Relative clauses can be restrictive or non restrictive.  That is, they either restrict or don't restrict the noun they modify.

Let's come up with a RESTRICTIVE appositive/relative clause (so many terms! But "appositive" is syntactical—about the role this plays in this particular sentence—while "relative clause" is a grammatical term… well, never mind J).  
A restrictive clause will "restrict" or narrow the meaning of the noun it modifies, like:
Governors who take bribes should be impeached.
In this case, the relative "who" clause "restricts" the noun to a specific and narrow meaning. There are many governors, but in this case, I'm speaking only of the ones who take bribes. I'm not saying every governor should be impeached, only that special group who take bribes (I'm hoping that's a small percentage of them!). The restrictive clause stuck in there actually "restricts" the noun, see.
Now the noun phrase isn't just the single word "governors," but the narrower term "governors who take bribes."

Let's diagram both those sentences:
Subject (noun phrase)
Predicate (verb phrase)
Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states.
Governors who take bribes should be impeached.
See the difference? Who are the chief executives of the states? Governors. You can take the appositive clause out and the main clause still means what you want it to mean—
Governors are the chief executives of their states.
But see what happens when you take the appositive out of the second one:
Governors should be impeached.
Even if we don't like politicians, we probably don't mean that all governors should be impeached!

Relative clause (who/which/what/that + verb)
Appositive (a clause or phrase which explains more about a noun)
Restrictive clause (a relative clause which "restricts" the meaning of a noun) Governors who take bribes should be impeached. This is NOT set off with commas before and after because it is necessary to the meaning and actually becomes part of the noun.
Non-restrictive clause (a relative clause which explains more about a noun but doesn't restrict the meaning)- Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states. These are set off before and after with commas, to show that they are "unnecessary" to the meaning.
What about "which and that"?
They are both "relative pronouns" which start relative clauses.
"Which" is used in non-restrictive clauses JUST BECAUSE. (I mean, I don't know why.) That means you use commas before "which"—not because it's "which," but because it's non-restrictive, which uses "which".
"That" means exactly the same thing, but is used with restrictive clauses and no commas.
(With people, btw, no matter what, we use "who." Also, my cat, WHO is named Bandit, reminds me we also use "who" with pets.)
Restrictive clause  Pedestrian malls that are successful share three important factors. (that is, we're only talking about successful pedestrian malls).
(People= who) Pedestrians who cross against the light are taking a big risk. (Only those who cross against the light are taking a big risk.)

Non-restrictive clause -- Pedestrian malls, which limit car traffic on downtown streets, are popular with businesses because they increase foot traffic. (All pedestrian malls are popular with businesses.)
Pedestrians, who are often walking for their health, are tempted by the bakeries which line Ontario Street.

What do you think? Does that make sense?  Often if you speak the sentence aloud, you can tell if you mean the more narrow subject ("Governors who take bribes"), as you will speak that without the pause that would indicate commas.

Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive always gives me a headache to explain, and anyway, it's been explained better by others:
Another site for this
Check these out. :)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grammar questions?

Hey, everyone,
I'm getting together some grammar lessons-- punctuation, sentences, wording. I'd love to do the lessons writers really need. What's your grammar question? I'll put it down on my list and write up a lesson for it. (I can't help it. I love this stuff.) Post here-- and also, if you see a lot of other writers' work-- what's the biggest issue you see, even if it's not a problem for you? I have to say, dialogue punctuation. (You know- She said "you don't understand" . )

What do writers need to be reminded to check?
What annoys you or intrigues you about grammar?

I just spent about a half hour trying to explain who/whom, and privately concluded this was something (along with subject/verb agreement) I might drop if I were Grammar Goddess.


Monday, May 8, 2017

3 Reasons to Choose a Small Press

3 Reasons to Choose a Small Press

Why a Small Press?
My publishing career is so checkered, I call it a “herringbone.” I’ve been published by major publishers and a couple small presses, and self-published too. So I thought I’d give you all some food for thought and write about why I chose to go with a small press for my women’s fiction novel, The Year She Fell.
I got my first publication back in the Golden Era of romance publishing, when all the major NY publishers were starting romance lines and midlist romance writers had print runs of 300K. (Not me, but many others!) I never benefited much from that wave as I wrote in a small niche genre (Regencies), but I stayed published by major pubs for more than a decade. I never made much money, but the prestige of major publication helped my teaching career, as nearly everyone was impressed to hear that I was a “Dell author.” (Of course, I published only one book with Dell before they suddenly dropped their Regency line. The great thing about prestige is it can be based on singular and long-past events.)
But consolidation of the big publishers in the 90s led to the greater commodification of books, and the multi-nationals didn’t seem very interested in marketing to niche readers anymore. Even with a top agent, I couldn’t get back into the closed circle with a book I’d certainly considered commercial. Why? Because I’d been writing “small books,” with print runs under 40K, the suddenly all-important “numbers” – how successful an author was at making lots of money for the publisher—meant editors had to send letters with high praise and that “Unfortunately” last paragraph. (“Unfortunately, with the market as it is, we can’t take a chance on Alicia who hasn’t the record of success we want.”) I knew the book was good, and I knew it would sell well if it got the chance. But it looked like I wasn’t going to get a chance. Then someone suggested submitting the book to Belle Books, a small press that a friend of mine had started years ago with some friends.

Small Press, Big Advantages (3 Good Reasons to Consider a Small Press)
1. Small presses aren’t afraid of small audiences.
For someone like me, who had mostly read big-press books, and had published only with “The Big Eight” (soon to become The Big Seven and then The Big Six and now I think it is the Big Five), looking beyond NYC for publication was scary. I mean, I’d heard about small presses, but thought they published only literary fiction and poetry, and regional publishers, but thought they published only local histories. Boy, did I get an education when I sold the book to Bell Bridge Books (the women’s fiction imprint of Belle Books). I learned that small presses like BB can aim for niche readers because their lower overhead (no Manhattan office to rent! no Manhattan salaries to pay!) means they don’t have to sell as many copies to make a profit on a book.
2. Small presses can be more nimble in responding to changes in technology and marketing.
I also learned that compared to the ocean-liner-sized major publishers, a small press is like a nimble cruiser, able to turn on a dime to take advantage of new technologies and techniques. So though my book came out initially in print, the publisher quickly realized that the rise of the Kindle and other e-readers would open up low-cost opportunities. So they published my book in several electronic formats, and while the sales were small for the print edition, the title caught on for Kindle readers.
The costs are lower, and the royalties much higher in e-format, and a small press like mine can experiment without much cost. For example, my publisher put the book up for free in Kindle format the week after Christmas 2010. I admit, I thought it was crazy to give away books. But it worked, generating many reviews and getting the book onto the top 10 list in the Kindle store. Even when the free period ended, customers still downloaded the book, only this time they paid for it. So paradoxical as it seems, giving the book away was an effective way to sell the book. But I’d never encountered that method with a big press. They didn’t even like to give the author many copies. (Of course, free copies aren’t cheap in print!)
In fact, for a brief moment (and I do mean a moment), my book was the #1 bestselling book on Amazon Kindle. Hey, it’s not the NYTimes list, but you better believe I now call myself a “bestselling author.” For a Regency writer, used to sales in the lowest five figures, this was a heady experience. (And yes, I checked my ranking constantly, and suffered through every bad review too!) And when I got my first royalty check, well, it didn’t quite pay for a new Lexus, but it was several times larger than any of my big-press book royalties.
3. Small presses are eager to maximize income from a potential bestseller, because they don’t have many of those.
One of the Big 5 might have 20-30 bestsellers a year. (That is, after all, how they get to be one of the Big 5.) So even making one of the major bestseller lists won’t necessarily make them pay special attention to your book when it comes to selling it onward. In contrast, small presses are more likely, I think, to explore opportunities for alternate revenues like foreign sales and subsidiary rights, because that way they can maximize income from their relatively short list of books. Just an example: the Harry Potter books were released both in the UK and the US by relatively small presses. Of course, these novels sold millions, but much of the revenue (JK Rowling is the first writer to become a billionaire) came from adroit dealing of film rights and other sub-rights. Of course, the big presses sometimes do try to sell film rights and the like, but very seldom for books in the midlist or below. (A word to the wise, then– try to retain a big percentage of your film and subsidiary rights! JK did. 🙂
My decision was further validated the following Christmas, when my publisher once again did a marketing push for my book (now out for more than a year), and got The Year She Fell up onto the bestseller list again. This persistence was in great contrast to my experience with big publishers, where a book was pretty much up for sale for the release month, and never again. I’d gotten used to doing a frantic round of promotion that month, and then seeing the book taken from the store shelves and stripped to be sent back to the publisher. Instead, I got a second sizeable January royalty check, because my small press can keep the book for sale literally for years.
There are always trade-offs in any decision, and going with a small press has meant giving up a few perks, especially the powerful influence created by the huge multi-national publishers. And there are, of course, limitations to the small press experience. The advances tend to be small because the companies are usually under-capitalized, using the profits from one book to fund the production of the next. The smaller presses can’t afford to have marketing divisions that go out and sell the books to big accounts. (On the other hand, this means that the marketers don’t get to interfere with editorial decisions as I kept running into with big publishers.) Small presses also don’t have the clout to force booksellers to sell a “small” book in order to get enough copies of a “big” book like a Grisham or a Koontz.
[optin-cat id=”630″] But I think my own experience shows that there’s no reason to confine our submissions to big New York publishers. Small presses might have the flexibility and resilience to keep up with the near-constant changes in the marketplace. However, because small presses don’t have the name-recognition and long public histories of a Random House, I’d suggest doing some due diligence before signing that first contract. Google the company name and check with the author-warning sites (like Preditors and Editors) to make sure there aren’t a lot of author complaints (especially ones concerning unpaid royalties!). Read the contract carefully and compare it with sample big-press contracts. Make sure that you’re not expected to contribute any funds of your own. Ask about the company in your writer’s groups and lists. Check the biographies of the company personnel to see if there’s a good mix of editorial and business expertise. Check their own website, and the sales pages of some of their books at Amazon or to see if the presentation is professional. Finally, talk through with the publisher what is planned for your book in terms of publication and marketing. These common-sense precautions will also help you get to know the publisher and get some ideas of how together you can make your book a success in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Has anyone else tried the small-press route? What’s been your experience?
Alicia Rasley is a Rita-award winning author and nationally known teacher of writing workshops. She teaches composition and tutors students in two state universities. She grew up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia but now lives in the midwestern flat land. Her book The Year She Fell has been a Kindle fiction bestseller.
Her website is Her writing book, The Power of Point of View, is still available from Writer’s Digest Books. All her books can be found on her Amazon page.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quick Scene Structuring

Get out a scene you're working on, and let's see about drafting and then revising.

A  lot of writers bore themselves by planning a scene too much in advance. This scene, how about just sketching the very basic events? Try choosing a big scene, like The Reversal, or The Point of No Return, a scene where something important happens.

 In a turning point scenes like those, something changes the direction—that's why it's a "turning point". Think about what big revelation or event could reverse the flow of events (like the heroine goes on the interview for the job she wants, and gets "ambushed") and see if you can write around that big event.  Here's a quick scene design, with the big event at the center:

The setup of the event
The buildup to it
The event
Her reaction
The beginnings of the consequences
The ending
.... which leads to the next scene.

Let's get started brainstorming:

 Scene Goal: (Heroine wants to impress in the interview because she wants the job)- How do you show this?

 Setup: Keep this to a minimum if you can, maybe a paragraph at most before things really get started, so no long walk from the parking lot through the hallway to the interviewer's office. Maybe start with her knocking on the door or telling the receptionist she's here.

 Central event: The interview where the interviewer keeps asking "ambush questions" like-- "You majored in history? Why did you do something stupid like that?"  Or ... "Hmm. Your hobby is knitting. Are you one of those women who knits during business meetings?"

 Conflict: (She loses her temper at a very personal question about what happens if she gets pregnant or married, and when she calms down, she thinks she's messed up interview )

 Result: This doesn't have to be the ultimate result of her finding out if she got the job or not. This is the result of the immediate scene conflict. Like as she walks out of the interview, someone congratulates her, and she says, Oh, I blew it, and he winks and says, "That's not what I hear."

 Or end on the cliffhanger-- the phone rings, she can't get to it, the machine picks it up, she hears the boss's voice, she dives for the receiver and...

In other words, have an actual ENDING. Make sure you end with something that closes the scene but propels into the next scene, when she's maybe on her first day at the new job. Just a quick scene design to help you build to the event and then to show the beginnings of the consequences. But notice, the "big event" isn't just her getting her goal (the job), but rather the conflict event that puts the goal into doubt.

 Now let's bring in INTERNAL.  That is, let's see how this basic scene schematic can be individualized and deepened by adding in the internal component, what the character subconsciously desires and fears.

So as you write the scene, consider how the overall character goal and motivation are going to be advanced in this scene. Of course the scene itself has a goal and conflict and all that, but it also advances the book plot (for example, the quest to solve the murder mystery).  So consider that there is a booklength external conflict and a booklength internal conflict. And there are major internal and external motivations that guide the character through every event in the story. Even if every scene has a goal, you don't need separate motivations and conflicts for each scene; rather the goal is likely to be pieces or aspects of the larger one, a step toward achieving the goal. And the conflict is the event that gets in the way of the goal, or the piece of the overall "big' conflict that arises because of this situation.

 Let me come up with an example. Hmm. I have a character, Theresa, who was adopted when she was 7 by a wealthy family. She's in her 30s now and has had no contact with her birth family since the adoption. So she comes back to her hometown and decides to find her parents. That's her overall goal for the whole book time.


Whole Book Arc
Goal: locating birth parents

Now what's her motivation? Her -external- motivation is the one she can state out loud to anyone who asks.
External motivation: I remember I had siblings, and want to see them again.

What's her -internal- motivation, what is driving her from within but she can't at this point quite acknowledge?
Internal motivation: I've always felt like the outsider in my adoptive family, and maybe my birth family will make me feel like I belong.

 Now external conflict is often what's between her and the goal, or the problems and issues pursuing the goal bring up in her. (There are other genesises of conflict, but those are good ones.) So what's her external conflict?
External conflict: Her adoptive mother doesn't want her to find her parents, and is making it hard.

What internal problem/issue is also hampering her or making trouble?
Internal conflict: She unconsciously thinks that the reason she was given up for adoption and the reason her new family never really "fit" is because there's something wrong with her.

Okay! That's all the BOOK stuff. Now how does that apply to a scene?

Individual Scene Arc
I think what I need to do is to look at the scene and decide what piece or aspect of the book-long goal, etc., it pursues. Where are we in the story?  It's still early. She's formulated the goal, but she hasn't encountered the conflict yet (her adoptive mother).  Right away, I think—it's time! This scene she's going to start trying to achieve her goal, but then encounter the conflict that tells her it's going to be harder than she imagined, because Mom is going to get in the way.

So let's say this is the scene where she goes to the courthouse to find the birth records.

Her goal for the scene: Get my birth certificate. Notice this is only a piece or step of the book-length goal. But in order to track down her birth-parents, she first has to find out who they are, and that's the "step" for this scene—her scene goal.

Her external motivation for the scene: My birth parents' names will be on the birth certificate, and I want to know that. I need the birth certificate to get other records. Again, this isn't the "big motivation" of reuniting with her siblings, but a very scene-focused motivation—why she wants the scene goal.

Her internal motivation for the scene: If I find the birth certificate, I'll know I really did exist before the Wakefields adopted me. Be careful not to reveal too much about the book-arc internal motivation. The entire story, probably, goes to reveal what internal factors are at work here, so in the beginning scenes, we probably just want a piece of it. How would this be shown? Well, she might mutter something, or have a flash of thought, something involuntary, that hints at this. (LIke maybe she's holding the birth certificate and thinks, Oh. I really did exist, didn't I?)

Now comes the all-important scene conflict. Remember, this isn't the whole external conflict, but just the piece of it that is getting in the way of this particular scene goal.
External conflict: The clerk who finds it, and then says, "Does your mother know you're doing this?" and keeps her waiting while he makes a phone call.... to her mom, probably.

Internal conflict: She's afraid of what she'll find if she does get the birth certificate... maybe mom is trying to protect her from finding out that her parents were famous serial murderers. Again, this is only a piece of the big internal conflict. But notice that there's a hint here that "there's something wrong with me" that connects to her overall internal (unrecognized) conflict.

NOW... how does this all affect her SCENE ACTIONS?

Action in pursuit of goal in scene: She goes to the courthouse and demands the birth certificate.

External conflict:
Clerk starts to call adoptive Mom.

Internal conflict: But when she encounters interference, she wavers. Not sure she wants to pursue it this bad-- what if the clerk tells his friends and everyone in town hears about it...

IOW, her internal conflict of being afraid of what she might find makes her ambivalent about achieving the goal. BUT… it's not ACTION unless she DOES something, right? So she how can she show that she's ambivalent?  She can say, "Never mind then," and start towards the door, but then turn back and point at the receiver in the clerk's hand. She can wait with her hand on the door until the clerk hangs up without making the call. Then she can say "Thank  you" and leave.  See how that expresses her internal conflict (maybe Mom is right and I don't want to know) and external conflict (all I know is, I really don't want Mom to know) through action, not just her thoughts.

But remember the effects or consequences of the conflict?  That's how you move from this conflict into the next scene, how you make the step deeper into the story.

So- consequences!

When the clerk picks up the phone again (forcing the conflict again) to call her mom, however, the larger conflict between her and mom fires her anger and forces her into real action (she steals the birth certificate off his desk, maybe).

This sort of action, the action at the end of the scene, is more interesting when in some way it's irrevocable. After all, once she's stolen something, she can't really turn back. She's committed a crime! She's tipped her hand and now the clerk knows she really wants that birth certificate!  And she's actually proved to herself how much she wants it, enough to go against a lifetime of morality to commit a theft.   (Plus the clerk is SO going to tell her mother!)

Think of the motivation and conflict as pullers and pushers. The motivation pulls her towards the goal, but the conflict is shoving her from behind or shoving her back or shoving her in another direction. How is that going to play out in this scene?

Consider that every scene has "Goal Motivation and Conflict," but not the larger GMC. Rather they're all going to be aspects or pieces of the larger GMC. And what's important is-- how do they impel this character to act and react at this moment?

 ACTION is the ultimate purpose of motivation and conflict-- to cause the character to do something she has to do to be in this story, to move one more step towards her goal or away from the relative comfort she enjoyed before this story got started, before she started going after the goal, before she confronted the conflict.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Inconvenient Research Information= Opportunity!

Inconvenient Research Information= Opportunity!

For some reason I decided I had to have a story where my sleuthing couple are at a cricket match and the batter gets "beaned" by the ball. Only it's not a ball, it's a meteorite.

No prob! Of course, I know nothing about cricket or meteors either! But that's what Google is for. And when Google fails, someone within my husband's wide acquaintance can always step up. (He knows all sorts of interesting people because he's been the program chair of Scientech, a lifelong-education organization composed muchly of retired engineers and physicians.

Okay, I'll be honest here. It wasn't that Google FAILED, precisely, but it gave me information that seemed to make my scene impossible. To wit: Many meteorites fall to earth every year, but almost none (like two in the history of the world, as far as we know) have hit humans. Also, a meteorite falling on someone's head would pretty much obliterate him, because it's fallen a very long way and very fast. Shoot! I can't kill off a kid in a cricket game with his parents watching! And anyway, this is supposed to be a romantic novella, and Natasha and Matt are unlikely to be feeling much like cuddling if they just saw a death. 

But I persevere. It's not a problem, it's an opportunity! I realized I needed to write around these inconvenient research facts. First, of course, I turned to the higher source, Jeff's buddy the astronomer. He gave more inconvenient information, but the facts were more nuanced, a lot of "it depends." And I could work around by manipulating the options "it depends" gave me.
So while it will cause some adjustments in the sequence, it's still all feasible. Of course, plausibility is still an issue, but really, this would be a one-in-a-billion event in the best of situations. People really don't get hit by meteors very often! But they COULD be-- if it's ever happened, it can happen again, right? And fiction is about the unusual, right? That's why we get to make it up. So my cricket-playing youth turns out to be the THIRD person ever to be hit by a meteorite. Talk about wrong place/wrong time.

So anyway, Kurt said that they are usually 2-3 inches in diameter (which is fine), would come down almost perpendicular to the ground (a bit of a problem, given that kid-obliteration issue), and would probably be 800 degrees hot or so (but could be much hotter). However, my meteorite (yes, it's MINE! :) could be touchable in an hour depending on the material. (I love "depending on" because that means I have some leeway and it's still legal.)

What's fun is to work the scene around those requirements. I don't want the meteorite to hit the kid on the top of the head (perpendicular descent), but I could have it hit something else first and ricochet. So I can have that something be a tree, which it splits or breaks. That impact would diminish the velocity to a less lethal level and could also change the trajectory, so it's now moving horizontally and could just glance off the youth's temple rather than, you know, obliterating him.

As for the super-heatedness, also a obstacle/opportunity! I'd planned to have Natasha send the children to look for the object that hit the tree and kid, and her niece was going to bring it back. But now I'm going to have Dorie try to pick it up and cry out because it's still hot (I can make it be about 20 minutes after the impact), and Natasha will then have to join her and pick it up with her glove and maybe some leaves from the broken tree. That makes for more character interaction with each other and the object, and also that little minor bit of conflict that makes a scene more fun to read.
Research Obstacle = Plot Opportunity.
Anyway, I wanted to report back on this momentous issue! And seriously, everyone, watch out. 18,000 to 84,000 meteorites hit Earth every year, and your head could be in the way! (Source is here.) One more thing we have to worry about! (NOT.)
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